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The Hitchhiking Movie
Genre Documentary
Year: 2009
 
Review:

The Hitchhiking Movie is the story of Ryan and Phillip, who undertook a bold adventure in 2007, the grueling task of hitchhiking from coast to coast, New York to Los Angeles... in 7 days. Ryan bought an air ticket 7 days in advance, flying the tag team travelers back from Los Angeles and forcing them to do the almost impossible. The US has been inundated with horrors like The Hitchhiker and comedies like There's Something About Mary depicting the dangers of hitchhiking. The thumbs up mode of transport has even been banned in some States, while Interstate police are able to imprison any pedestrians caught on the highway. Hitchhiking is a no-no in the US and popular culture has made it nearly impossible to hitch a ride, whether you're doing the hitching or picking up. This thinking is exactly what Ryan Jeanes and Phillip Hullquist were up against when they decided to embark on the travel adventure of a lifetime.

Documenting the journey must have presented its own problems. Firstly, trying to hitch a ride for two people is a lot harder than finding room for one, especially when there's camera equipment on-board. Secondly, documenting illegal acts in some states could land the film-makers in hot water with local authorities and spending a night in prison... well, you've probably seen The Shawshank Redemption. The idea was bold, the adventure was just waiting to be had and these guys just had to do it, come rain or shine. However, dreaming a wonderful idea for a movie and executing it in a way that makes it entertaining and compelling for an audience are two very separate challenges. The skeleton documentary crew comprised of one in director, Phillip Hullquist with one lead character in writer, Ryan Jeanes.

The natural inclination was for this travel documentary to become a buddy road trip movie and it is! The difference is that this is reality TV, streaming from the real America. US culture is given open heart surgery in this exploratory cross-section of Americans: from a Seminole Indian truck driver named Fred to a wild, one-eyed construction worker with a mullet to a conservative black couple imploring the adventurers to pay it forward... Twenty-three rides result in a myriad of characters from different paths of life. Jeanes is a tall, good-looking guy with plenty of natural charm and a conduit for these interactions. The diverse range of characters breathe fresh life into the film as their progress is traced on a map and life stories are shared on the road.

The thrill of hitching a ride is infused with the time constraint of making the journey in time, surviving on the goodwill of strangers and catching a booked flight... all in a week! This is the same spirit of adventure that made Christopher McCandless's Into The Wild adventure so vivid and enthralling. The stakes are a lot lower, but it still resonates as a truly American experience... taking to the roads to find identity and adventure has been an underlying thread from the early days of Jack Kerouac's On the Road and films like Easy Rider. The Hitchhiking Movie puts these notions to practice, partly as an experiment and partly as an experiential journey into present day America.

The concept, low budget reality and film-makers are up to the task. This is a film that hasn't been tainted, although amateur at times, the spirit is the driving force that makes The Hitchhiking Movie compelling viewing. Jeanes is a friendly everyman American and the audience is given the chance to experience the adventure first-hand from the perspective of quiet cameraman and behind-the-scenes Director, Phillip Hullquist. The dialogue is spontaneous, the trek is no-frills real-life adventure and US road culture is put under the spotlight as the two young men discover the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of life on the road.

The low budget filming is forgivable, this is a hand-held camera adventure and doesn't profess to be anything other than that with a simple title, two recurring names appearing in the opening credits and a reality more real than reality TV itself. Local facts and landmarks about cities and states are thrown up on the screen, a tally of free stuff and a day countdown are displayed as the tag team of modern day adventurers hit the road. It's anything but glamorous with sweat, sunburn, restroom washing, McDonald's and approaching complete strangers for lifts. It's like being there with Ryan giving frequent updates and a running commentary on the ups and downs of hitchhiking.

The Hitchhiking Movie could have been called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the States, but its simple and almost pure agenda make the title more apt. The trip may not be as grandiose, intellectual or Hollywood as Into The Wild, but it certainly makes McCandless's efforts more admirable. The young trippers took very little money and little in the way of clothing, but could have made the story even more gripping without the use of cellphones. The film's shoestring budget takes the slack for plenty of production criticism, but there are some inexcusable mistakes, such as regular spelling errors in the subtitles. All in all, its a lofty, valiant effort that wings it on the spirit of adventure, the diversity of American character and the Kerouac residue of US road culture from the '60s, proving the dangers of hitchhiking are over-saturated by Hollywood and the average American is still willing to give a pal a helping hand.

The bottom line: Bold.

 

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